Maharashtra's GDP to contract 8% in ’20-21

The extent to which the pandemic and the lockdown crippled the state is revealed in Maharashtra’s economic survey that forecasts a negative growth rate of -8% for 2020-21. This is a historic low for the state and a huge slide from 2019 when the revised economic growth rate was 5%. The survey also projects a decline in the state’s per capita income.

The Indian economy is also expected to grow at -8% in 2020-21. The parallel with the state’s growth rate is not surprising since Maharashtra contributes the highest share to the nation’s nominal GDP at 14.2%.

The only sector set to show positive growth is agriculture and allied services, expected to grow by 11.7%, almost twice the 6.1% in 2019-20. This sector benefited from a plentiful monsoon and exemption from lockdown restrictions. The industrial sector is expected to contract 11.3% compared to 0.2% growth last year and services sector at -9%, down from 8.3%.

Within industry, manufacturing and construction were the sectors hardest hit in 2020-21, with the survey forecasting growth of -11.8% and -14.6% respectively. In 2019-20, manufacturing had growth of -1% and construction 1.7%.

Services sector was affected mainly because of the “hard impact of the pandemic on trade, repairs, hotel & restaurants and the transport sector,” the survey says.

Although agriculture is set to show dramatic growth, its impact in computation of economic activity is limited. It accounts for 11.7% of Gross State Value Added. Industry accounts for 32.6% and services 55.7%.

Fall in economic activity is also reflected in other parameters. Nominal GSDP is set to decline by Rs 1.56 lakh crore in 2020-21, from Rs 28.2 lakh crore in 2019-20 to Rs 26.6 lakh crore in 2020-21.

Per capita income is set to fall to Rs 1.88 lakh in 2020-21 from Rs 2.02 lakh in 2019-20. In 2019, Maharashtra was ranked fifth in per capita income, behind Haryana, Telangana, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

The survey also shows how revenue collection has been impacted. Actual revenue received by the state in April-Dec 2020 was Rs 1.76 lakh crore, 50% of the annual target.

The state’s debt is expected to be Rs 5.2 lakh crore for 2020-21, 19.6% of GSDP and within fiscal limits, says the survey.

FDI inflows to the state in April-Sept 2021 were Rs 27,143 crore, lower than to Gujarat (Rs 1.19 lakh crore) and Karnataka (Rs 27,458 crore). However, between April 2000 and Sept 2020, the state attracted Rs 8 lakh crore of FDI, the highest in the country.

In terms of projects, Maharashtra accounts for highest number of approved industrial projects between Aug 1991 and Oct 2020. Its 20,909 projects account for 18% share in the country. However, investments generated are lower than Gujarat and Karnataka. Its share of investments is 10.7%, that of Gujarat is 14.9% and Karnataka is 11.2%.

Exports from Maharashtra have also declined during the pandemic. Exports from the state dropped from Rs 5 lakh crore in 2018-19 to Rs 4.6 lakh crore in 2019-20. Figures for April-Sept 2020-21 are Rs 1.72 lakh crore.


Dwarka E-Way snippets

The Dwarka Expressway will be completed before August 15, 2022. This was stated by Union minister for road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari on Thursday. The 29 km expressway, which starts near Shiv Murti on NH-8 and terminates near Kherki Daula toll plaza, is being constructed at a cost of Rs.8,662 crore.

After reviewing the progress of work, the minister said nearly 12,000 trees had been transplanted and their survival rate was 84%. “This is the first time that trees have been transplanted on such a massive scale in the country. We have spent over Rs.25,000 for transplanting one tree using new technologies. Based on this experience, the method will be replicated across the country,” added Gadkari.

The eight-lane Delhi-Gurgaon section of NH-8, which is a part of the Delhi-Jaipur-Ahmedabad-Mumbai arm of the Golden Quadrilateral, currently carries traffic of over three lakh passenger car units, which is beyond its design capacity. This leads to severe congestion. With this project, 50-60% of traffic on NH-8 would be reduced.

“The project will also provide around 50,000 direct or indirect employment opportunities. It will be the firstever elevated urban expressway in India and will immensely help reduce air pollution,” said the minister.

Considering connectivity and congestion, Dwarka Expressway was conceptualised essentially as a bypass for Gurgaon. It would also connect Dwarka to Terminal 3 and take off around 5.3km away from near the railway underbridge, thereby providing alternate connectivity to IGI Airport from west Delhi and Haryana. Besides, direct connectivity would also be provided to the upcoming India’s International Convention Centre, which is being built over 90 hectares in Sector 25, Dwarka.

“We will also build a 5km tunnel from Shiv Murti to Nelson Mandela Road to reduce traffic. The work may start this year. The demand of Gurgaon residents of shifting Kherki Daula toll plaza will also be met. It will be removed before the expressway is inaugurated,” said Gadkari.

The minister added, “The project will be an engineering marvel and have several unique features. It will have the longest (3.6km) and widest (eight-lane) urban road tunnel in India. The road network will comprise four levels — tunnel/underpass, at grade road, elevated flyover and flyover above flyover.”

“The project, which will be equipped with intelligent transportation system, will have India’s first 9km-long eight-lane flyover (34m wide) built on a single pier with six lane service roads. The tolling system will be fully automated at the 22-lane toll plaza,” Gadkari said.

Somewhere in Odisha....


Mumbai, TN ports & 10 power assets faced China cyberattack

Cyberattacks by RedEcho, the actor group with China links, on India’s power infrastructure have been more widespread than previously known and the activity continues even after military de-escalation in Ladakh’s Pangong area, American security enterprise Recorded Future has revealed.

According to Christopher Ahlberg, CEO of Recorded Future, the Massachusetts-based security enterprise that detected the intrusions, 10 Indian power sector assets and Mumbai and Tamil Nadu’s V O Chidmabaranar ports came under attack.

On the Union power ministry’s statement that no installation was affected as safeguards were already in place, Charity Wright of Insikt, Recorded Future’s threat research group, said it showed the government responded to alerts.

On power minister R K Singh blaming the Mumbai blackout in October last year on human error, Ahlberg said there was insufficient data to prove a cyberattack caused the massive Mumbai power outage.

Recorded Future observed through its network intelligence significant, high-volume, network traffic from Indian power sector assets to servers used by China-linked group RedEcho… The adversary infrastructure is still active and activity continues,” Ahlberg said in a presentation on the group’s findings on Thursday. Wright said the location of targeted infrastructure covered the length and breadth of India’s geography as well as the demography.

A New York Times report had last Sunday reported these intrusions, citing findings by Recorded Future. It raised doubt that Chinese hackers may have caused the October 12 power outage in Mumbai as a warning against strong Indian pushback to PLA’s border transgressions in Ladakh. Targeting the Indian energy sector offers limited economic espionage opportunities. But the group believed “gathering future operational activity, pre-positioning destructive malware, as a warning/show of force during heightened bilateral tensions; and potential information operation to disturb Indian population” could be the possible objectives.

Wipro buys UK firm Capco in $1.5bn deal

Wipro will acquire London-based global management and tech consultancy Capco for $1.5 billion to bolster its presence in the banking, financial services & insurance space. The deal, which is Wipro’s largest acquisition ever, will also give the Indian tech services giant a strong consulting footprint.

The deal comes under CEO Thierry Delaporte, who took over in July last year, and demonstrates a desire to regain the momentum the company has lost to rivals over the past several years. Wipro’s other big acquisitions include those of US-based cloud consultancy firm Appirio for $500 million in 2016, and of UK-based Infocrossing for $600 million in 2007.

Capco clocked $700 million in revenue in the 2020 calendar year. Wipro said the acquisition creates a global financial services business of $3.2 billion, up from the current $2.5 billion, with a strong consulting and business transformation footprint.

Capco, founded in 1998, gives Wipro access to 30 new large BFSI clients. It has over 5,000 consultants based in more than 30 global locations across 16 countries. It works with more than 100 clients and has many long-standing relationships with leading financial institutions.

The all-cash transaction is expected to be completed during the June quarter, subject to regulatory approvals and customary closing conditions. The transaction will be financed through internal cash and debt. Wipro has some $6 billion of cash reserves.

BFSI is a big spender on technology and is the largest industry vertical for the major IT services companies, accounting for almost a third of the revenue for many of them. Compared to TCS, Cognizant and Infosys, Wipro is weak in BFSI. The Capco acquisition seems to be an effort to address this gap.

Wipro believes there are significant synergies to be realised through cross-selling opportunities. Capco is said to be highly complementary to Wipro’s capabilities in building digital technology and operations solutions for helping clients achieve their transformation objectives.

Delaporte said, “Together, we can deliver high-end consulting and technology transformations, and operations offerings to our clients. Wipro and Capco share complementary business models and core guiding values, and I am certain that our new Capco colleagues will be proud to call Wipro home.”

Lance Levy, CEO of Capco, said, “We are incredibly excited to join our new colleagues at Wipro. Together, we will offer bespoke transformational end-to-end solutions, now powered by innovative technology at scale, to create a new leading partner to the financial services industry.”

In its investor presentation, Wipro said the acquisition will dilute Wipro IT services ebit (earnings before interest and taxes) margins by 2% in the first year, a large component of which will be a non-cash charge. It said margins will improve in the future based on revenue and cost synergies.

Although revenue synergies and growth acceleration are the primary objectives of the acquisition, there are identified cost synergies to be realised post-integration, Wipro said.

12 Indian institutes among global top 100

Twelve Indian universities and higher education institutions have achieved top-100 positions in their subjects. In total, 25 Indian programs achieved top-100 positions, one fewer than in 2020, in the11th edition of the QS World University Rankings by subject released on Thursday.

Two institutes of eminence achieved top-50 ranks for mineral and mining engineering: IIT-Bombay (41st, no change) and IIT Kharagpur (44th, up two places). These, along with IIT-Madras’s 30th place rank for petroleum engineering, are the highest ranks achieved by the government run IoE this year. IISc Bangalore retained top-100 ranks for materials science (78th) and chemistry (93rd). IIT-Delhi was 54th (down from 49th in 2020) in electrical and electronic engineering, 70th in computer science, and 79th in mechanical engineering. IIM-Bangalore and IIM-Ahmedabad were 76th and 80th, respectively, in business and management.

The rankings offer data on the performance of 253 programs at 52 Indian institutions, across 51 disciplines.

EPFO retains 8.5% payout for FY21

Amid declining interest rates, the Employees Provident Fund Organisation has managed to hold on to an 8.5% rate for the current financial year, providing relief to its nearly five crore active subscribers. 

The decision was taken at a meeting of the EPFO’s central board of trustees headed by labour minister Santosh Gangwar. The decision will need to be endorsed by the finance ministry, which is known to raise the red flag almost every year before holding itself back.

The retirement savings agency has relied on the stock market to offer higher returns.

“For FY 2021 (2020-21), EPFO decided to liquidate investment and the interest rate recommended is a result of combined income from interest received from debt investment as well as income realised from equity investment. This has enabled EPFO to provide higher return to its subscribers and still allowing EPFO with healthy surplus to act as cushion for providing higher return in future also. There is no over-drawl on EPFO corpus due to this income distribution,” an official statement said.

EPFO will be left with a surplus of around Rs 300 crore. At the current level, someone in the 30% income tax slab will earn annual returns of over 11% given the tax-free status enjoyed by it currently. In contrast, other investments, such as fixed deposits with banks don’t only offer such high rate but face tax if over Rs 1.5 lakh is parked even in maturity basket of over five years. Similarly, public provident funds deposits currently fetch 7.1% but the investment is capped at Rs.1.5 lakh annually.

Apart from returns, provident fund also comes with the power of compounding, which means if you stay long enough, based on compound interest on the corpus, your returns actually grow significantly with your annual contribution adding to the benefit.

Meanwhile, the government on Thursday said that EPFO has extended its coverage to establishments in J&K and Ladakh after the implementation of EPF & MP Act to the two Union Territories from the end of October 2019.


Delhi: JICA fund boost for Metro to bring Phase-IV on track

The Phase-IV project of the cash-strapped Delhi Metro Rail Corporation has received a major boost with Japan International Cooperation Agency, which has funded its earlier projects through soft loans, agreeing to fund the expansion in principle, sources said.

“JICA has agreed for Phase-IV funding in principle but formalities are still in process at the government level to freeze it. As soon as the funding is finalised, a large number of tenders will be floated, which will bring a lot of pace to the ongoing construction work for the three corridors as it will be possible to work on different sections simultaneously,” a source said.

Sources said DMRC was relieved at the development as JICA’s funding was essential for Delhi Metro’s expansion plans. JICA had funded 60% of Phase-I, 54% of metro’s Phase-II and 51% of Phase-III projects. In Phase-IV, its share will be less than 50% and the amount will be around Rs 13,000 crore, they said.

DMRC is not in the pink of health financially due to the shutdown of services for 169 days due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the safety protocols after reopening having reduced its carrying capacity. As metro construction is highly capital intensive, the funding from JICA was crucial, but the pandemic put a spanner in the work.

The three approved corridors of Phase-IV, which will have 45 stations, are Aerocity-Tughlaqabad (20.2 km), Maujpur-Majlis Park (12.5 km) and Janakpuri West-RK Ashram corridor (28.9 km) where construction for the much-delayed project started first in December 2019.

Even as the construction gathered pace, the national lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19 was announced last March. “As the work had just started, the process of applying for a soft loan from JICA was not fully completed. The funding agencies have this condition that you can’t start the bidding process unless the loan is signed, which meant too many tenders couldn’t be floated,” the source said.

That is why while work started on one section of the Janakpuri West-RK Ashram Marg corridor by December, DMRC couldn’t float tenders for all the corridors immediately as many of these had to wait for the loan to be “tied” and for the agreement with JICA.

“While construction work is on at all three corridors and we plan to open the smaller Maujpur-Majlis Park corridor by next year, now we can start the bidding process for many contracts for systems and major work like tunnelling,” the source said.

Although the total Phase-IV project comprises six corridors spanning around 104km that have been approved by Delhi government, only three priority corridors have been approved by the Centre till now.

Covaxin Shows 81% Efficacy in Phase-3 Clinical Trials

Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin has shown an interim vaccine efficacy of 81% in Phase 3 clinical trial, the Hyderabad-based company said. “Covaxin demonstrates (not only) high clinical efficacy trend against Covid-19 but also significant immunogenicity against the rapidly emerging variants,” Krishna Ella, chairman of Bharat Biotech, said in a statement.

With this, the company said it has reported data on its Covid-19 vaccine from phase 1, 2, and 3 trials involving around 27,000 participants.

Covaxin was approved for restricted use in an emergency situation by the Drug Controller General of India in January without efficacy data as the company had not finished recruiting participants for Phase 3 trials then. Some experts had raised concern over approving the vaccine without efficacy data, and initially there were reports that many beneficiaries were reluctant to sign the consent form for the vaccine.

The company said the first interim analysis is based on 43 participants who were infected with the SARS Cov2. Of these, 36 cases of Covid-19 were observed in the placebo group (or those who did not receive the vaccine) versus seven cases observed among those who received Covaxin, resulting in a point estimate of vaccine efficacy of 80.6%.

Bharat Biotech has to reach 130 cases to fully release its data on efficacy. The company has enrolled 25,800 participants between 18-98 years of age for Phase 3 study, including 2,433 over the age of 60 and 4,500 with comorbidities. The interim analysis showed that severe, serious, and medically attended adverse events occurred at low levels and were balanced between vaccine and placebo groups, the company said.

“The bench-to-bedside journey of completely indigenous Covid-19 vaccine in less than eight months’ time showcases the immense strength of Aatmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) to fight the odds and stand tall in the global public health community,” said Balram Bhargava, director general of premier biomedical research institute ICMR.

February 2021: Services Growth Fastest in a Year

A quicker increase in new orders and stronger demand led to expansion in India’s service providers' business activity at the fastest rate in a year in February with the Covid-19 vaccine roll out leading to an improvement in business confidence.

The India Services Business Activity Index rose to 55.3 in February from 52.8 in January. A figure above 50 indicates expansion, while a sub-50 reading signals contraction.

However, employment continued to fall for third month in a row and companies noted the sharpest rise in overall expenses in eight years.

Transport & storage was the best-performing segment of the service sector among the five categories monitored by the survey, recording the strongest increases in new business and output during February.

Information & communication was the only sub-sector to post contraction in sales and business activity. Companies in this category also bucked the general trend of positive growth projections and signalled a neutral outlook for output, the survey showed.

Kashmir: Mirwaiz released from house arrest

Ahead of the auspicious Islamic occasion of Mehraj-e-Alam, which falls on March 11, moderate All Parties Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was released from house detention on Wednesday after 19 months. He had been under house arrest since August 2019 when the Centre scrapped the special status of J&K and split the erstwhile state into two Union territories of J&K and Ladakh.

According to officials, Mirwaiz was allowed to move out of his house at Nigeen in Srinagar’s Hazratbal area from Tuesday. “I am happy to learn that I am a free man now,” Mirwaiz said.

A Hurriyat spokesman, however, said the decision of the release has not been officially conveyed to the Mirwaiz so far.

Mirwaiz said: “I will now undertake a campaign against drug addiction, which has started eating up our society, particularly our youths.”

He said he will ensure that there is no law and order problem in the locality around Jamia Masjid in Nowhatta area of the city.

Innocent man in jail for 20 years walks free

Vishnu Tiwari walked out of Agra Central Jail with three bags to start a new life. In them were his clothes, Rs 600 left over from the stipend he got in jail for his work and a copy of the high court judgment that had ordered his release after 20 years of wrongful incarceration on rape charges. He was wearing a T-shirt gifted by one of his fellow inmates.

As he made his way out, they cheered, garlanded him and applauded. He was finally getting justice and the inmates — the only friends he had had — were happy for him. The moment he stepped out, it all fell silent. No one had turned up to receive him. Two of his brothers and father had died years ago. His elder brother had long disowned him. His younger brother, 33, could not make it. “No one should go through what I did. Many innocent people are languishing in jail. The authorities should at least get them a fair trial,” Vishnu said.

He had lost the fight in him while he was in prison, after trying once, in 2005, to challenge the trial court’s decision to sentence him to life. But prison authorities stepped in on his behalf, approached the State Legal Services Authority and placed his case in HC again which, on January 28, found him not guilty.

Ayesha suicide: Owaisi slams dowry system

A day after Aarif Khan was arrested for abetting the suicide of his wife Ayesha Banu Makrani in Ahmedabad, Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi slammed the dowry system in the country and said harassing women over the social evil was not a sign of manhood.

“No matter which religion you belong to, end this greed for dowry. Harassing your wife, beating her up for dowry or any financial transaction is not manhood. The family should be ashamed for forcing the girl to take the extreme step,” he said while addressing AIMIM cadre here.

He spoke in detail about Ayesha, 23, who committed suicide allegedly due to harassment by her husband and in-laws for dowry.

Owaisi expressed grief over the girl’s suicide. “How many more women have to suffer? What kind of men are these that kill women? Is humanity dead among people? There are so many men who torture women, physically assault them, seek dowry and yet pretend to be an angel in the outside world,” he said, adding that one may fool the world but can’t fool Allah.

He appealed to all Muslim men to be good to women and their families.

Delhi: DDA’s 200-Acre Bharat Vandana Project Gains Momentum

A selfie against the backdrop of India Gate, followed by the Char Minar, Howrah Bridge or Gateway of India — this will be possible soon when Delhi Development Authority unveils its Bharat Vandana Park, where the ‘Mini India’ zone will have miniature replicas of famous monuments from Indian states.

Located near the Dwarka Sector-9 Delhi metro station, the park is spread across 200 acre in Sector 20 of the sub-city. A DDA official said that the project’s Mini India zone will showcase the rich and diverse art forms, culture, heritage and ethnic values of the country. “National Buildings Construction Corporation is the project management consultant and has already initiated the work,” he said.

DDA recently uploaded a copy of the environmental clearance to the project accorded by the Union ministry of environment, forest & climate change on its website. According to the minutes of the 55th meeting of the Expert Appraisal Committee, the salient features of the project presented before it mentioned that the ‘design of the park is a derivative form of the lotus flower, with the outline footprint of lotus. Each petal of the flower will be a zone for a specific activity’.

The primary attraction of the sprawling park will be Mini India, which will outline the heritage of India through replicas of famous monuments of different Indian states. These will be built at a miniature scale of 1:25. There will also be landscape parks of some states, crafts bazaar, a boating canal etc.

Apart from the Mini India zone, the other petal-shaped zones are congregational zone, cultural zone, Pushpa Kriti Sarovar zone, eco-sensitive zone, meditation garden zone, fun park zone, adventure park zone, lake-view restaurant zone and the Vandana Sarovar zone, which will be the central water body that will act as the focal point of the park and will have a viewing deck around it. There are also plans to provide boating facilities there.

According to the presentation given to the Expert Appraisal Committee, of the total 200 acres, the proposed built-up area will be of around 3.3 acres and a recreational park is proposed to be constructed in line with green building principles and LEED-IGBC (Indian Green Building Council) platinum rating standards. The area for the amusement park is of almost 25 acres and is permitted as a district park in Master Plan Delhi 2021. The landscaped green area will sprawl across 98 acres, which is 54% area of the total park, apart from nearly 26 acres being covered by the waterbodies.

DDA wants the park to serve as a Delhi landmark and a one of its kind facility in NCR. The park envisions integrating various experiences and activities that would engage people of all ages and cultures. Unlike conventional parks, DDA has envisaged the Bharat Vandana Park to be on the lines of a destination park that will offer multiple activities in order to make it a vibrant and dynamic park which would also be self-contained and self-sustaining.

The Expert Appraisal Committee has granted approval to the project subject to conditions like in-house treatment of wastewater for use in flushing toilets, presence of landscaping and waterbodies and charging points at the parking lots for electric vehicles, etc.

Goa: Sawant woos investors

The state government made a strong pitch for investments into Goa’s maritime sector at the Maritime India Summit-2021, promising time-bound approvals and a responsive administration to potential investors. Speaking during a session on investment opportunities in Goa, state government officials said that as the state tries to differentiate itself through maritime tourism, several investment opportunities will be unlocked in the coming decade.

Chief minister Pramod Sawant, who spoke at the session, said that the government’s policies will make Goa a “powerhouse” in the maritime sector.

“With my government’s new policy initiatives, Goa will be the powerhouse in the maritime sector. What you will find in Goa is a responsive administration, good people, great climate and international environment,” said Sawant.

Sawant said that the state is a serious player when it comes to building large riverine and ocean-going vessels. “The next office of all maritime stakeholders should be in Goa,” said Sawant.

Industries secretary and secretary to chief minister J Ashok Kumar, who also spoke during the session, said that the Goa Investment Promotion Board offers single window clearances for all investment projects with time bound clearances.

Managing Director of Goa Tourism Development Corporation Nikhil Desai, said that Goa is eyeing the resumption of seaplanes, hovercrafts, yachts and other activities to boost Goa’s image in the tourism sector.

“For seaplanes, the process is underway and we invite investors to participate in the processes. Hovercraft, luxury yacht services again have tremendous potential. Goa is on the cusp of an immense marine revolution and the potential is tremendous. With the right kind of investment in infrastructure and due attention to safety and security of the visitors, Goa can emerge as the numero uno destination,” Desai said.

He also announced that a cruise terminal jetty is being planned in the state capital. The cruise terminal jetty will be built through public-private partnership and will have space for commercial activity.

“The contract is in the process of being framed. We are optimistic that in the next 12 months we will have a jetty terminal building with world class infrastructure facility, which is being built with in association with the private sector. The potential of a lively waterfront with live entertainment music, retail, restaurant is part of our masterplan and we are actively working on it,” said Desai.

He also informed investors that a waterfront is being developed in the state capital and with similar projects being planned along the Chapora and Sal rivers in the next couple of decades.

Ease of Living Index 2020

Among Indian cities with a population of over a million, the ease of living is the highest in Bengaluru, Pune and Ahmedabad while it is the lowest in Bareilly, Dhanbad and Srinagar, according to the Ease of Living Index 2020 prepared by the ministry of housing and urban affairs. In cities with population less than a million, Shimla was ranked the highest while Muzaffarpur in Bihar was had the lowest score.

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasising the ease of living, along with the ease of doing business, as a key policy priority, the rankings of cities have assumed significance in shaping government policies and determining expenditure priorities. A total of 111 cities participated in the assessment exercise that was conducted in 2020.

The first edition of the index was launched in 2018. It was based on indicators across 15 evaluation criteria, including governance, identity and culture, education, health, safety and security, economy, affordable housing, land use planning, public open spaces, transportation and mobility, assured water supply, waste-water management, solid waste management, power, and quality of environment.

The 2020 report noted that the index was born out of the need to measure the outcomes of programmes and “verify whether these interventions were effective in ushering progress in urban India”. The index is also based on metrics that “align with sustainable development goals”.

Union housing minister Hardeep Puri said, “India’s steady economic growth is reflected in the rapid expansion of her cities. India, today is one of the fastest-growing large economies in the world. With the current urbanisation rate, India is expected to have 50 percent of the country’s population residing in cities within the next 30 years.” Puri acknowledged that while rising urbanisation promises innovation and growth, it also puts “tremendous pressure on available resources”.

The ministry also drafted a report on the “Municipal Performance Index 2020” in a bid to determine elements that prevent efficient local governance in service delivery mechanisms, planning, financial systems, and governance practice.

In the million-plus category, Indore has emerged as the highest ranked municipality, followed by Surat and Bhopal while Guwahati, Kota and Srinagar ranked lowest. Among municipalities catering to a population of a less than a million, New Delhi Municipal Council has emerged as the leader, followed by Tirupati and Gandhinagar while Shillong, Imphal and Kohima municipalities were ranked lowest.

The MPI examined the sectoral performance of 114 municipalities (with Delhi being assessed separately for NDMC, and the three Municipal Corporations) across five verticals which comprise of 20 sectors and 100 indicators in all totality. The five verticals under MPI include services, finance, policy, technology and governance, the report noted.

The methodology and approach for the revised edition of EoLI and MPI were released by the ministry in February 2019. Essentially, the EoLI report aims to measure the well-being of Indian citizens in 111 cities, across the pillars of Quality of Life, Economic-ability, and Sustainability, with 49 indicators under 14 categories, the report noted. It also incorporates citizen perception of cities into the index through the Citizen Perception Survey that was conducted by the housing ministry.

“The EoLI primarily seeks to accelerate India’s urban development outcomes, including the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. The findings from the index can help guide evidence-based policymaking. It also promotes healthy competition among cities, encouraging them to learn from their peers and advance their development trajectory,” it added.

The Citizen Perception Survey was undertaken from January 16 March 20, 2020. A total of 3.22 million citizens from 111 cities participated in the survey.


$82 bn being invested in ports by 2035 : PM

India will invest USD 82 billion in port projects by 2035, raise share of clean renewable energy source in maritime sector, develop waterways, augment seaplane services and boost tourism around lighthouses, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Tuesday urging global players to make India a “preferred investment destination”.

As many as 400 projects with investment potential to the tune of USD 31 billion are ready for investors, who can be a part of India’s growth trajectory, Modi said inaugurating the Maritime India Summit.

“More than 574 projects at a cost of USD 82 billion or Rs 6 lakh crore have been identified under the Sagarmala project for implementation during 2030 and 2035... We will encourage private investment in the port sector... India’s long coastline awaits you. India’s hardworking people await you.

“Invest in our ports. Invest in our people. Let India be your preferred trade destination. Let Indian ports be your port of call for trade and commerce,” the Prime Minister said as he invited players to invest in Indian ports, shipyards and waterways.

The Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways is ready with a list of 400 investable projects with investment potential of USD 31 billion or Rs 2.25 lakh crore, Modi said.

“Through this Maritime India summit, I want to invite the world to come to India and be a part of our growth trajectory. India is emerging as a leading blue economy of the world. Our leading focus area includes upgrading current infrastructure, creating next generation infra, boosting the reform journey. Through these steps we aim to give vision to our Aatmanirbhar Bharat,” he said.

Modi further noted that “ours is a government that is investing in waterways in a way that was never seen before. Domestic waterways are found to be cost effective and environment friendly ways of transporting freight. We aim to operate 23 waterways by 2030.” 


February 2021: Factory Activity Eases Marginally

Manufacturing activity in India eased marginally in February and employment decreased as the country saw rise in fresh Covid-19 infections in some states.

The IHS Markit India Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index was 57.5 in February compared to 57.7 in January but remained above its long-run average of 53.6. A reading above 50 indicates expansion while below that signals contraction.

The survey report showed that February data pointed to the strongest increase in input inventories in the survey history as firms reacted to rising production needs by lifting purchasing activity and the expansion in input buying was the fastest in almost a decade.

Going ahead, goods producers expect output to increase over the coming 12 months based on improvement in economic conditions and the lifting of restrictions as the vaccination programme expands.

Pollyanna De Lima, economics associate director at IHS Markit, said the overall degree of business optimism was the joint-highest for three months.

As per the survey, better demand conditions and successful marketing campaigns reportedly underpinned a further increase in new orders during February.

“Although easing from January, the pace of growth remained sharp in the context of historical data,” IHS Markit said in the report.

India’s economy grew 0.4% year-on-year in the October-December quarter, putting an end to the pandemic-led technical recession. Manufacturing rose1.6% in Q3.

“Indian goods producers reported a healthy inflow of new orders in February, a situation that underpinned a further upturn in output and quantity of purchases,” said De Lima.

High prices of a number of items such as chemicals, metals, plastics and textiles made the overall rate of cost inflation jump to a 32-month high.

As per Rahul Bajoria, chief India economist at Barclays, in an environment of demand normalisation, a return of pricing power could mean the pass-through into core inflation may increase going forward.

“Still, the data indicated that production growth could have been stronger should firms have appropriate resources to handle their workloads,” De Lima added.

February 2021: GST Collection Up 7% to ₹1.13 Lakh Cr

Goods and services tax collections rose for the sixth successive month in February, while higher e-way bills for the month pointed to collections remaining firm in March as well.

Total GST revenue was ₹1.13 lakh crore in February, 7% higher than a year earlier and a tad lower than ₹1.2 lakh in January after a fresh increase in Covid-19 cases dented collections in some states.

E-way bills for February were at 63.8 million, marginally higher than 62.8 million in January, but higher than 57.1 million a year earlier, as per GST Network data.

Rail freight increased last month, with loading up 10% on-year at 112.25 million tonnes.

“This is a clear indication of the economic recovery and the impact of various measures taken by tax administration to improve compliance,” the revenue department said in a statement Monday.

February was the fifth straight month of collections exceeding ₹1 lakh crore and the third month in a row crossing the ₹1.1 lakh crore mark.

Earnings from freight loading were Rs 11,096.89 crore in February, which was 7.7% higher than Rs 10,305.02 crore in February 2020.

Tax experts pitched for GST rate rationalisation. “It is expected that the trend would continue as we approach the financial year end and audits become more rigorous… this should give much needed confidence to the government to consider rate rationalisation,” said Pratik Jain, partner, indirect tax, at PwC India.

Of the gross GST revenue of ₹1.13 lakh crore collected in February, Central GST was ₹21,092 crore, state GST ₹27,273 crore and integrated GST ₹55,253 crore, including ₹24,382 crore collected on import of goods. Compensation cess was ₹9,525 crore, which included ₹660 crore collected on import of goods.

The government has also settled Rs 22,398 crore to CGST and Rs 17,534 crore to SGST from IGST as regular settlement.

Chinese hackers targeted India’s power through malware: US firm

Amidst the tense border tension between India and China, a Chinese government-linked group of hackers targeted India’s critical power grid system through malware, a US company has said in its latest study, raising suspicion whether last year’s massive power outage in Mumbai was a result of the online intrusion.

Recorded Future, a Massachusetts-based company which studies the use of the internet by state actors, in its recent report details the campaign conducted by a China-linked threat activity group RedEcho targeting the Indian power sector.

The activity was identified through a combination of large-scale automated network traffic analytics and expert analysis.

Data sources include the Recorded Future Platform, SecurityTrails, Spur, Farsight and common open-source tools and techniques, the report said.

On October 12, a grid failure in Mumbai resulted in massive power outages, stopping trains on tracks, hampering those working from home amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and hitting the stuttering economic activity hard.

It took two hours for the power supply to resume for essential services, prompting Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to order an enquiry into the incident.

In its report, Recorded Future notified the appropriate Indian government departments prior to publication of the suspected intrusions to support incident response and remediation investigations within the impacted organisations.

There was no immediate response from the Indian government on the study by the US company.

Since early 2020, Recorded Future’s Insikt Group observed a large increase in suspected targeted intrusion activity against Indian organisations from the Chinese state-sponsored group.

The New York Times, in a report, said that the discovery raises the question about whether the Mumbai outage was meant as a message from Beijing about what might happen if India pushed its border claims too vigorously.

In response to the allegation, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Monday rejected the criticism about China’s involvement in the hacking of India’s power grid, saying it is “irresponsible and ill-intentioned” to make allegations without proof. 

Chennai Metro phase-2 to soar over city skyline

The metro is changing not just the city’s commute, but its skyline too. Imagine a metro line at a height of 40.4 metres, as tall as a nine-storeyed building. That’s the height of the phase-2 line planned at Alandur, which will run above the existing phase 1 line.

For the 118.9 km phase-2, CMRL has decided to go over rather than under. Metro lines will soar over the Kathipara flyover in Guindy, the grade separator at Koyambedu, and flyovers at Vadapalani, Thirumangalam, Porur and Poonamallee. A 21km line between Nehru Park and SIPCOT on Old Mahabalipuram Road is also expected to come up above a yet-to-be-built flyover. The height will range from 23 metres to 36 metres.

The new skyline, however, comes at a cost. “It will cost roughly 10% to 20% more than an elevated line above a road because the quantity of construction material needed will increase,” said V Somasundaram, former CMRL official.

For instance, while elevated viaducts on a road are built at an average 12m height, which includes clearance for the vehicles on the road for about 5.5m, when they built above a flyover, which may be at 6 to 7m height, the height of these viaducts may be at 18 to 20m. “Usually, the line slowly starts rising at least half a kilometre away from the maximum elevation. After crossing the flyover, it will start descending gradually to a height of 11m to 12m. For every 25m, there may be a 1m elevation,” explained Somasundaram. “It is still technically feasible and faster than going underground,” he added.

Unlike phase-1, the elevated corridors and stations are going to be built in cantilever style, where the structure sits on a single row of pillars raised on the centre of the road while the trimmed down stations will have two arms, which will be entry points, spreading out to either side of the road.

CMRL is equipped with information on all the flyovers over or under which they may be building a line. A city corporation official said they have given technical details of flyovers at Kodambakkam, Bazullah Road in T Nagar and at Radhakrishnan Salai. “We had a series of meetings with CMRL officials on constructing above our flyovers. Permission to construct above our flyovers was given only with an assurance from them that there will be no disturbance to traffic and no damage to our structures,” a state highways official said.

We had a series of meetings with CMRL officials on constructing above our flyovers. Permission to construct above our flyovers was given only with an assurance from them that there will be no disturbance to traffic and no damage to our structures

Desi Covaxin gets booster shot with Modi taking jab

Desi Covid-19 vaccine Covaxin, which has been plagued by vaccine hesitancy after it got the EUA (emergency use authorisation) nod in the midst of Phase III efficacy trials, and Atmanirbhar Bharat got a major booster shot after PM Narendra Modi took the first jab of the indigenous vaccine on Monday morning.

Bharat Biotech has developed the vaccine from scratch in India, along with the Indian Council Medical Research-National Institute of Virology, Pune.

“This has set a powerful example for all Indians to follow, which will go a long way in reducing vaccine hesitancy and building confidence in immunisation against the ongoing pandemic. We express our sincere gratitude to the PM for reposing his trust in the indigenously developed Covid-19 vaccine, Covaxin. We urge all fellow citizens to not hesitate from taking part in the Covid-19 immunization program so that the country can bring an end to this public health crisis,” Bharat Biotech chairman and managing director Dr Krishna Ella said.

Earlier in the day, Bharat Biotech also tweeted its appreciation for the PM. “Inspired and humbled by Hon’ble PM’s remarkable commitment to build an Atmanirbhar Bharat. Yes, we all shall fight #COVID-19 together and emerge victorious,” the firm tweeted.

Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik also took his first dose of Covaxin on Monday. Tweeting about this, Bharat Biotech joint managing Suchitra Ella said: “Namaskar Hon CM of Orissa Sri Naveen Patnaik ji, leading by example of getting vaccinated today.”


Mumbai: BMC, Blackstone to Unclutter Parel CBD, Spruce Up Civic Infrastructure

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai has accepted a proposal from US private equity firm Blackstone Group Inc to overhaul infrastructure in the Lower Parel, Prabhadevi and Dadar area—among the busiest business districts in the country’s commercial capital. The mile-long stretch is home to some of the city’s prime commercial buildings such as One International Center, One World Center and Sunshine Tower, leading up to Peninsula Business Park, Kamala City and Phoenix Palladium.

The One Green Mile project is the fruit of the first alliance formed by a global investor with an Indian civic authority to help improve city infrastructure.

The MCGM is also considering a plan to encourage such private participation by corporates and global investors in overhauling amenities in Mumbai’s business districts and key commercial locations elsewhere.

“We would encourage the private sector to step forward and collaborate with the local government and authorities to improve the city’s infrastructure,” Aaditya Thackeray, state tourism and environment minister said. “We are grateful for the support from Blackstone in our efforts to redevelop one of Mumbai’s busiest streets into a safe and clean space for residents to commute and gather.”

This first project aimed at street improvement and upgradation in the city is being undertaken within the civic body’s prevailing policy framework.

“It’s a win-win situation for all stakeholders and it will help in betterment of citizens, government, city and the environment at large,” said Sharad Ugade, assistant municipal commissioner, GSouth, Mumbai.

He added that it’s the first pilot project on such a large scale in Mumbai and will prove to be a benchmark, encouraging other private entities to come up with such proposals. The project entails planned urbanism, correction and widening of roads, broader pavements, reclaiming the streets from encroachments and beautification.

The first phase of the One Green Mile project, an 800-metre stretch between Blackstone-owned One International Centre and One World Center, is expected to open to the public by May. Work on the second phase of the project, which extends along Senapati Bapat Marg from the Dadar flower market and goes just beyond One World Center, is expected to commence in April. The private equity firm will continue supporting the state government’s efforts to create more green spaces and safer streets in the city centre, said Tuhin Parikh, head of real estate for India, Blackstone.

“As one of the largest global investors in India, we are committed to working with local governments to build thriving communities that can positively impact people and businesses,” Parikh said.

Blackstone has started working on the plan to revamp the streets in the area and the work is expected to be completed by May. The private equity firm has emerged as the biggest institutional investor in Indian real estate in the past few years. The milelong stretch that connects Dadar, Elphinstone Road and Lower Parel in Mumbai’s central business district is a high-volume traffic area with more than 100,000 commuters per day. The project is expected to have an impact on five suburban railway stations and six upcoming metro stations in the area.

RIL Ups Stake in skyTran to 54.5%

Reliance Industries has acquired a majority stake in skyTran Inc, a technology company that develops pod car transport systems, increasing its holding to 54.46% from 26.3% earlier at an additional investment of $26.76 million through its subsidiary Reliance Strategic Business Ventures. The deal is a part of Reliance’s stated aim to develop new green technologies, the conglomerate said late on Sunday.

“We are excited by skyTran’s potential to achieve an order of magnitude impact on high speed intra and inter-city connectivity and its ability to provide a high speed, highly efficient and economical ‘transportation-as-a-service’ platform for India and the rest of the world,” RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani said.

He said non-polluting, high speed, personal rapid transportation systems will help facilitate environmental sustainability through efficient use of alternative energy and make an impactful reduction in air and noise pollution.

Pod taxi is a driverless personal rapid transit system that runs on overhead suspension or magnetic levitation. It runs on electricity and typically accommodates two to six people.

The government had given a green signal to test three such rapid transport systems in 2017.

skyTran is a venture capital funded technology company formed under the laws of Delaware, US. The company is supported by global venture capital investors such as Innovation Endeavors.

RIL’s subsidiary Reliance Industries Investments and Holdings had first acquired 12.7% in skyTran in October 2018. In November 2019, it increased the stake to 17.3%, and then to 26.3% in April 2020.

skyTran has developed a highspeed, elevated transport system that can carry both passengers as well as cargo using magnetic levitation technology.

The pods can move at high speeds of over 100-120 kmph on elevated aluminium poles built over normal roads. Dozens of these autonomous pods can travel on the pole without any human intervention.

The system, which has very few moving parts and therefore less prone to defects, has been designed in such a way that the additional infrastructure is created over existing roads. Vehicles in this system arrive on demand, not as per schedule, and stop only at the station desired by the passenger.

PSLV injects 19 satellites into orbit

In one of its longest journeys lasting nearly two hours Indian Space Research Organisation’s workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C51) successfully placed Amazonia-1, an optical earth observation satellite, from Brazil and 18 other satellites in orbit on Sunday.

It was Isro’s first launch mission in 2021 and the first dedicated mission for its commercial arm New Space India Limited.

“Congratulations to NSIL and @isro on the success of the 1st dedicated commercial launch of PSLVC51/Amazonia-1 Mission. This ushers in a new era of space reforms in the country. 18 co-passengers included four small satellites that showcase dynamism and innovation of our youth,” PM Narendra Modi tweeted. “Congratulations President @jairbolsonaro on the successful launch of Brazil’s Amazonia-1 satellite by PSLV-C51,” he said in another tweet.

Around 17 minutes after lift-off from Sriharikota’s first launch pad at 10.24am, the rocket injected 637kg Amazonia-1 into a 755km sun synchronous polar orbit. In the next one hour 38 minutes, PSLV injected the remaining18 satellites after it reached a lower orbit, following restart of the rocket’s PS4 or upper stage engine twice.

“In this mission, India and Isro feel very proud, honoured and happy to launch the first satellite designed, integrated and operated by Brazil,” said Isro chairman K Sivan. With this, Isro has launched 342 foreign satellites from 34 countries.

Amazonia-1, an optical earth observation satellite designed, integrated, will provide remote sensing data to users for monitoring deforestation in the Amazon region and analysis of diversified agriculture across the Brazilian territory.

Marcos Cesar Pontes, minister of science, technology and innovation, Brazil, who was at Sriharikota to witness the launch, said, “This is one important step in partnership with India that is going to grow.”

Out of the 18 other satellites, SD SAT built by Space Kidz India and UNITYsat, a combination of three satellites, were launched through INSPACe. The other 14 satellites were launched through NSIL.


One District One Product

If you want to start a business in food products, it would serve you well to look at the farm/animal/ marine product-specific map with insights into the speciality of that district and the support which you may get from the government as a food processing entrepreneur.

The agriculture ministry under ‘One District One Product’ approach has finalised 135 district specific unique products for 728 districts across the country, identifying each of them with certain agricultural, horticultural, animal, poultry, milk or marine products.

Though there are some familiar names of district-product combo in the list such as oranges of Nagpur, grapes of Sangli, litchis of Muzaffarpur, the comprehensive list dedicates 60% of total 728 districts to fruits (226 districts), vegetables (107) and spices (105). In contrast, foodgrains such as paddy (40), pulses (16) and wheat (5) found place in quite a small number of districts across the country even as they are produced widely.

It can be attributed to the need for processing and support which the listed products may require for value addition, keeping in view brand building and export promotion of local produce. The list of products has been finalised after taking inputs from the states/UTs and Indian Council of Agricultural Research, focussing on existing clusters and availability of raw materials. “These products will be promoted in a cluster approach through convergence of the central government schemes to increase the value of the products with the ultimate aim of increasing the income of the farmers,” said Shubha Thakur, joint secretary in agriculture ministry, in a note to chief secretaries/administrators of States/UTs. These district-wise identified products will be supported under the PM Formalisation of Micro food processing Enterprises scheme which provides incentives to promoters and micro-enterprises. The Scheme adopts ODOP approach to reap benefits of scale in terms of procurement of inputs, availing common services and marketing of products.

“The state governments are accordingly requesting a plan for implementation of the programme which can benefit farmers and provide support for realizing the expectations of value addition and subsequently enhancing agri export,” said Thakur.


Five assembly polls to begin from March 27

As many as 824 assembly constituencies shall be going for polls in four states — Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam — and Puducherry (Union Territory), said Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) of India Sunil Arora on Friday.

Tamil Nadu assembly elections to be held in a single phase on April 6, Kerala also goes to polls on April 6; Assam assembly elections to be held in three phases — first phase of polling March 27, second phase on April 1 and third phase on April 6; Puducherry elections are to be held on April 6.

Counting of all votes will be held on May 2. “Nearly 18.68 crore electors will vote at 2.7 lakh polling stations for 824 seats in four assembly elections,” Sunil Arora said addressing media persons here today.

He also said the Bihar Assembly polls last year in November amid the COVID-19 pandemic was a watershed moment and proved to be a litmus test for the Election Commission of India.

India out of recession

Growth returned to the economy in the October-December quarter of 2020 -21, helping it to move out of the recession that had gripped following one of the strictest lockdowns imposed last year to ward off the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The economy grew 0.4% in the three months ended December powered by manufacturing, farm, electricity, construction, financial, real estate and professional services. The numbers showed the contraction in the June quarter was sharper at 24.4% than the previous estimate of 23.9%, while the decline in the September quarter was revised to 7.3% from the earlier 7.5%. An economy is said to be in recession after posting two consecutive quarters of contraction.

The second advance estimate for the full year showed the economy is forecast to contract by 8%, higher than the 7.7% projected before and mostly in line with other estimates.

The December quarter data also showed that India had joined China, Vietnam and Taiwan, a select group of economies, which have posted growth during the three-month period against the backdrop of sharp declines in major economies of the world hit hard by the pandemic. The RBI had earlier estimated that growth would return in the third and fourth quarters of the current fiscal year that ends in March.

Recent estimates by multilateral agencies and economists have pointed to a rebound in the Indian economy. The IMF has also forecast India to be one of the fastest growing major economies in the world in 2021-22 as growth momentum gathers pace. The rollout of the vaccination programme has added to the optimism, but the resurgence of the virus in some parts of the country has emerged as a risk factor. The finance ministry said the October-December quarter data was also a reflection of a further strengthening of the V-shaped recovery that began in Q2 of 2020-21 after a large GDP contraction in the April-June quarter, which followed one of the strictest lockdowns imposed by the government relative to other economies.


No fundamental right of same-sex marriage: Centre

The Centre told the Delhi High Court that there is no fundamental right to seek recognition for same-sex marriage. The government stated this in an affidavit filed in reply to a petition by same-sex couples seeking enforcement of fundamental right of choice of partner.

“Despite the decriminalisation of Section 377 of the IPC, the petitioners cannot claim a fundamental right for same-sex marriage being recognised under the laws of the country,” the affidavit stated.

It said that the fundamental right under Article 21 cannot be expanded to include the fundamental right for same sex marriage. “In India, marriage is not just a matter of union of two individuals but a solemn institution between a biological man and a biological woman,” the affidavit read.

The Centre further stated that living together as partners and having sexual relationship with same-sex individuals, which is decriminalised now, is not comparable with the Indian family unit concept of a husband, wife and children.

It submitted that any interference with the marriage laws framed by the Parliament in the country would cause complete havoc with the delicate balance of personal laws in the country.

The Centre submitted that marriage in India is regarded as a sacrament and depends on age-old customs, rituals and cultural ethos and societal values.

Marriage of same-sex persons would violate the existing personal as well as codified laws, the Centre claimed, while seeking dismissal of the petition.

India, Pak to follow all ceasefire pacts

India and Pakistan have agreed to strictly observe all agreements on ceasefire along the Line of Control and other sectors, according to a joint statement on Thursday.

The decision on ceasefire, effective since Wednesday midnight, was taken at a meeting between the Director Generals of Military Operations of India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan signed a ceasefire agreement in 2003, but it has hardly been followed in letter and spirit over past several years with more violations than observance of the pact.

The DGMOs held discussions over the established mechanism of hotline contact and reviewed the situation along the Line of Control and all other sectors in a “free, frank and cordial atmosphere”.

“In the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders, the two DGMOs agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns which have propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence. Both sides agreed for strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the Line of Control and all other sectors with effect from midnight of February 24/25,” the joint statement said.

They also reiterated that existing mechanisms of hotline contact and border flag meetings will be utilised to resolve any unforeseen situation or misunderstanding, it added.

In written response to a question in Lok Sabha earlier this month, Union Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy said a total of 10,752 cases of ceasefire violations have taken place along India’s border with Pakistan in the last three years, in which 72 security personnel and 70 civilians were killed.

He said 364 security personnel and 341 civilians were injured in cross-border firings along the International Border and the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir in 2018, 2019 and 2020.


Mumbai: Water taxis to Navi Mum, more ro-ro ferries, harbour cruises likely in a year

Water taxis to Navi Mumbai and a few other destinations to the city’s southeast, roll on-roll off ferry services to JNPT, Mandwa and Kashid, and harbour cruises for tourists could start in a year, the Mumbai Port Trust has said.

MbPT has signed as many as 13 MoUs worth Rs 7,500 crore on developing water transport ahead of the three-day Virtual Maritime India Summit slated to be addressed by PM Narendra Modi on March 2. JNPT has signed over 30 Mo-Us worth Rs 27,000 crore for its SEZ as well as port expansion. With MbPT expecting to ink deals on infrastructure worth another Rs 12,000 crore, around Rs 47,000 crore of the Rs 1.3 lakh crore investments being sought for ports across India could be coming Mumbai’s way.

The water taxis, with a capacity of 20-50 passengers, will ply most likely from Ferry Wharf to Vashi, Nerul, Belapur, Nhava, Karanja, Rewas and Dharamtar at an average tariff of Rs 200-500 per person. The harbour cruises will offer facilities like food and games. MbPT chairman Rajeev Jalota said these projects can be running in a year’s time. One of the MoUs was with Cordelia Cruises run by Waterways Leisure Tourism, which plans to invest Rs 3,000 crore to buy ships and ferry tourists around the country and even outside, he added.

The Ro-Ro services planned, on the lines of the successful service to Alibaug, include one from the port on the Mumbai mainland to JNPT, the country’s largest container port, located across the harbour. It will ease movement of heavy vehicles between the two, said Jalota, and cut traffic and pollution in the city.

The summit, held every five years, will include Afghanistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Iran and Armenia and also discuss opportunities on the strategic Chabahar port that India is helping develop in Iran.

JNPT chairman Sanjay Sethi said prominent companies have signed MoUs to set up facilities ranging from manufacturing, IT, warehousing/cold storage, free trade warehousing zone, pharma, engineering to confectionary and food processing in the JNPT SEZ. There will be special emphasis in the summit on developing deep-draft ports that can take in big vessels for more trade.

For MbPT, besides citizen facing projects like the ferry services, a 300-yacht marina, a ropeway to Elephanta, and floating restaurants, Jalota said a bulk of the investments will be coming from oil companies looking to set up crude landing, bunkering, pipelines and other allied infrastructure. HPCL and BPCL, which are next month commissioning the largest berth for oil carriers in the country, have signed a pact to invest an additional Rs 1,500 crore to set up oil tanks, he pointed out.

Oil Companies Venturing into Green Hydrogen

State-run fossil fuel companies IndianOil, GAIL, HPCL and BPCL are venturing into green hydrogen space as part of the government’s push to adopt the environment-friendly fuel to help accelerate the energy transition.

These companies, spurred by the oil ministry, plan to undertake pilot projects for green hydrogen in 2021-22, said Dr SSV Ramakumar, director at IndianOil, who has been guiding the company’s hydrogen fuel development projects and helping the government evolve a strategy on the green fuel.

IndianOil, the nation’s largest fossil fuel retailer, aims to build a hydrogen distribution network in the future and is already testing the technology and economics of the fuel in multiple projects. It is the largest producer of hydrogen in the country, mostly using natural gas and naphtha and utilising it to reduce sulphur content in motor fuels at its refineries.

The new push is about green hydrogen, which is produced using renewable energy. IndianOil and other state oil companies plan to partner with renewable energy firms for their green hydrogen pilots.

Government is ready to talk with farmers on 3 laws: Tomar

The government is ready to resume talks with protesting farmers if they respond to its offer to put the three contentious farm laws on hold for one-and-a-half year and work out the difference during that time through a joint committee, Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar said.

The government and unions representing farmers, who have been camping at Delhi’s border for about three months in protest against the three laws that they see will end state procurement of crops at MSP, have held 11 rounds of talks, the last being on January 22. Talks broke after widespread violence during a tractor rally by protesting farmers on January 26.

Speaking on the sidelines of an event in the capital, Tomar said the government is committed towards the interest of farmers and agriculture, and under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it is making efforts to double farmers’ income and strengthen the Indian agriculture sector.

The minister was replying to a query on Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait threatening to march to the Parliament on 40 lakh tractors if laws are not repealed.

Tomar said, “Bharat sarkar kisano se puri samvedana ke saath charcha karti rahi hai. Aaj bhi jab unka koi mat aayega, toh Bharat sarkar hamesha kisano ke saath charcha karne ko taiyaar hai (The government has been holding discussions with farmers sympathetically. Even today, whenever their response comes, the government is always ready to hold talks).”


Delhi court grants bail to Disha

A Delhi court has granted bail to climate activist Disha Ravi, arrested in connection with allegedly being involved in sharing a toolkit on social media related to the farmers’ protest, terming evidence produced by police “scanty and sketchy”.

Additional sessions judge Dharmender Rana, who granted relief to Ravi on a personal bond of Rs 1 lakh and two sureties of like amount, noted that the accused had “absolutely no criminal antecedents”.

“Considering the scanty and sketchy evidence, I do not find any palpable reason to breach the rule of bail for a 22-year-old girl who have absolutely no criminal antecedent,” the judge said.

Ravi was arrested by a cyber cell team of the Delhi Police from Bengaluru and brought to Delhi. Her police custody ended on Tuesday. Disha was sent to custody as part of the police probe into violence on January 26 in the national capital during the tractor march called by farmers protesting against three new farm laws.

Shantanu Muluk, a suspect in the ongoing toolkit document case related to the farmers’ protest, moved a bail plea in a Delhi court on Tuesday. The court is set to hear Shantanu Muluk’s plea tomorrow. Muluk joined Ravi at the Delhi police cyber cell office in the national capital for further probe in the ongoing case.

BJP sweeps elections to all six Gujarat municipal bodies

BJP has swept elections to all the six municipal corporations in Gujarat by winning 483 out of 576 seats. The party retained office in Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara, Rajkot, Jamnagar and Bhavnagar. The polls had been held on February 21.

Congress got a drubbing as it won only 55 seats and failed even to open its account in Surat. On the other hand, AAP put up an impressive show by winning 27 seats, all in Surat, emerging as the main opposition in Surat Municipal Corporation.

BJP won 159 out of 192 seats in Ahmedabad, 68 out of 72 in Rajkot, 50 out of 64 in Jamnagar, 44 out of 52 in Bhavnagar, 69 out of 76 in Vadodara and 93 out of 120 in Surat.

Congress, on the other hand, won seats in single digit in three corporations, and drew a blank in Surat. The party won 25 seats in Ahmedabad, four in Rajkot, 11 in Jamnagar, eight in Bhavnagar and seven in Vadodara.

Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM, also contesting in Gujarat for the first time, won seven seats in Ahmedabad’s Muslim-dominated Jamalpur and Maktampura wards. Three BSP candidates won in Jamnagar, while an Independent won only in Ahmedabad.

BJP had won 389 seats and Congress 176 across these six municipal corporations in the 2016 elections, the saffron party therefore gaining 94 seats and Congress losing 121 this year.


340-km RRR around Hyderabad to be longest bypass in India

The road transport and highways ministry gave ‘in principle’ nod for the 340 km ‘Regional Ring Road’  around Hyderabad, which will connect all districts of Telangana with the state capital. The RRR, a four-lane access-controlled highway will cost Rs.16,000 crore. This will be the longest bypass in India.

Announcing the decision at Union minister Nitin Gadkari’s home, junior home minister G Kishan Reddy said, “Gadkariji has assured us the road will be built in three years once state acquires land. We are urging state government to take proactive steps to fast track it for development of Telangana.”

In November 2016, the highways ministry had given ‘in principle’ nod for declaring the two parts of RRR - northern and southern — as national highway. Monday’s decision has now paved the way for land acquisition and preparatory work.

The RRR is to be taken up in two parts. The northern part of 158 km, connecting Sangareddy, Narasapur, Toopran, Gajwel, Yadadri, Pragnapur, Bhongir and Choutuppal will be taken up at a tentative cost of Rs 7,560 crore. It will be totally funded by the Centre and another Rs 1,961 crore will be spent for land acquisition. The state government has agreed to bear 50% of the land acquisition and pre-construction cost.

“We sought Gadkariji’s help to approve the second arm of the RRR (182 km) covering the southern part connecting Choutuppal, Ibrahimpatnam, Kandukur, Amangal, Chevella, Shankarpally and Sangareddy. He has immediately given his consent for the project expected to cost Rs 4,322 crore and Rs 1,748 crore for land acquisition,” Reddy said.

Once the RRR is operational, highway traffic heading towards Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Bengaluru, Delhi can get diverted onto this access-controlled road and hence will reduce congestion and pollution in Hyderabad and Cyberabad.

Delhi: Sewage treatment plants to supply treated water to 14 SDMC parks

South Delhi Municipal Corporation has launched a project to supply treated water from sewage treatment plants to 14 parks.

SDMC has received around Rs.7 crore from the Union urban development ministry for installing the STP system at parks located next to drains and reviving a pond. The fund forms 80% of the total cost of the project while SDMC will finance the rest.

Each of these STPs will have the capacity to recharge 50 kilo litre of water per day and help in resolving the problem of short or no supply of water in certain parks.

“After disconnecting tubewells at many places following the National Green Tribunal’s order for not withdrawing groundwater, short supply at parks has become an issue. While we are looking for alternative solutions such as connecting some parks with the nearby STPs of Delhi Jal Board through supply lines, it is a time-taking and costly affair. These STPs will at least help in proper irrigation of 14-15 parks of minimum one acre area,” said an SDMC official.

The sites include Bhim Basti at Aya Nagar, three places at Dwarka, Green Park and Chhatarpur. The work has started in Dwarka while the project was inaugurated at Aya Nagar on Monday.

“Two STPs will be installed because besides irrigation of the 1.5-acre park, these will also be used for revival of a pond located next to the park,” said councillor Ved Pal. The park has been using storm water getting collected in the pond. “Now water will be treated before entering the pond.”

The park was redeveloped from barren land in 2018. “Residents have been uncomfortable due to the foul smell emitting due to direct use of drain water,” said Pal.

SDMC aims to complete work at all sites by the end of March and will use a biological process for wastewater treatment that consumes less energy.

India inks free trade pact with Mauritius

India signed a free trade and investment agreement with Mauritius, the first with any country in Africa. It was also the first time since 2011 that India was signing a free trade pact with any country.

Announcing this in Port Louis, foreign minister S Jaishankar said the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement “will provide a boost for revival of our post-Covid economies and also enable Indian investors to use Mauritius as a launch-pad for expansion into continental Africa helping the prospect of Mauritius emerging as a ‘hub of Africa’.”

In his first visit there as foreign minister Jaishankar also handed over another 100,000 doses of Covid vaccines to PM Pravind Jugnauth. He said, “A special $100 million Defence Line of Credit has also been signed today.”

Puducherry: Congress government falls after CM resigns

The Congress government in Puducherry fell after Chief Minister V Narayanasamy resigned ahead of the confidence vote in the Assembly with the coalition ministry reduced to a minority due to a spate of resignations of party MLAs and a DMK legislator recently.

Narayanasamy met Lt Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan and submitted the resignation of his fourmember cabinet, ahead of the Assembly elections due in April-May. With the exit of the Congress government here, Punjab, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh are the only three states in the country ruled by the party on its own.

Holding that Speaker V P Sivakolundhu did not put to vote the motion moved by him for a confidence vote, the Congress veteran said the former’s ruling that it stood defeated was “incorrect and invalid.”

Legal experts would be consulted on the matter, he said while dubbing the turn of events, surrounding the issue of voting rights of nominated members, BJP in this case, as a “murder of democracy.” 


Delhi-Bareilly flight from March 8

The civil aviation sector of Uttar Pradesh is set to get more wings with the commencement of flight operations from the newly constructed Bareilly airport.

Under the Centre’s flagship regional connectivity scheme, flights are scheduled to be operated by Alliance Air between Bareilly and Delhi from March 8, every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The airline will also begin two flights from Prayagraj connecting Delhi and Bilaspur, from March 1 under RCS. The flights would operate on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. In both cases, the airline would be using ATR 72 aircraft.

Bareilly’s would be the eight airport in the state to get functional after the ones in Lucknow, Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Kanpur, Hindon, Agra and Prayagraj.

Confirming the development, civil aviation secretary Surendra Singh said that the state government has spent around Rs.83 crore on construction of a civil enclave in Bareilly. This is apart from the around 35 acres of land which has been made available to Airports Authority of India free of cost and Rs.9.8 crore for ensuring dedicated power supply, he said.

Top sources in the civil aviation department said that IndiGo Airlines has also sent a team to Bareilly to conduct an assessment to operate flights.

“The area is largely unserved despite having many tourist places nearby,” a senior official in the department said. The area also has several industrialists who seek flights to reach business centres like Delhi and Mumbai.

Sources said that the demand for these facilities had been pending for long but neither the district administration nor the previous state governments had paid heed. Now, Singh said, the state government was regularly interacting with the Union civil aviation ministry and AAI for it.

Since air connectivity is being provided under RCS, the state government would give a number of sops to the airline including viability gap funding, free electricity up to 4,000 units, waiver on VAT on aviation turbine fuel for 10 years and security and fire services.

The state government would also provide road connectivity, bus services and ambulance services.

Maharashtra: Covid-19 surge

After a surge in cases, the government has imposed September-like curbs in Amravati division—almost everything except essential services will be shut in cities, shops and establishments to remain open only from 9am to 5pm and restaurants to accept only parcel orders. In Pune district, where positivity rate is inching towards 10%, all schools, colleges and private coaching centres would remain closed till February 28 and only “limited movement” would be allowed on streets from11pm to 6am.

The other four districts in Amravati division will have restrictions like the ones during the mid-September Covid-19 peak

Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray warned that the state would impose a strict lockdown if people did not follow Covid-appropriate norms for the next eight days.

On a day the state saw 6,971 new Covid-19 cases, Thackeray announced a complete ban for a few days on all political, social and religious gatherings, processions, morchas and public protests to check the spread of the disease.

In a 30-minute talk on social media, the chief minister told the people that it was in their hands to prevent another lockdown.

“Now, my question to you is, should we impose a lockdown? I will seek this answer from you in the coming eight days. Those who do not want a lockdown will observe protocols like using masks, washing hands and keeping physical distance. People who want a lockdown again will flout these rules. Let us see who wants a lockdown, and who doesn’t. I am very clear about this. Wear a mask, prevent a lockdown. Observe discipline, prevent a lockdown,” he said.

Thackeray urged citizens to be more responsible. “We should implement an ‘I am responsible’ drive for self-discipline,” he said.

Referring to the increasing Covid-19 cases in the city and Pune, Thackeray warned about a second wave.

“The second wave has not yet come but it has been knocking at our door. It will be clear in the next one or two weeks,” he said.

Noting the spike in Covid-19 in Amravati, where a lockdown is to kick in again from Monday, he said the number of cases was as high as during the peak of the pandemic. “We have imposed a lockdown in Amravati and other districts from Monday evening,” he said. While it was said that the gram panchayat polls held last month were one of the reasons behind the increase in cases in rural parts, Thackeray appealed to all political parties, including his own Shiv Sena, to cooperate in the battle against Covid-19.

TN: CM lays foundation stone for river-linking project

Chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and his deputy O Panneerselvam laid the foundation stone for the Cauvery-South Vellar – Vaigai– Gundar river linking project, describing it as a 100-year-old dream of the people of Pudukottai district to prevent excess water from Cauvery river getting wasted in the sea.

A visibly emotional CM said at the function organized at Kunnathur in Pudukottai that it was a golden moment in his life and he felt that the very purpose of his birth has been realised. The ₹14,400 crore project, which will benefit seven districts, envisages diverting excess water in Cauvery from Mayanur dam in Karur district to south Vellar river, to Vaigai and subsequently to Gundar river through 23-metre-wide and six-metre-deep canals. A 262-km-long canal will be laid to benefit 4 lakh acres of agricultural land across the seven districts. There will be provision for road transport on either side. The first phase to lay a 118.45-km-long canal from Kattalai in Mayanur dam till south Vellar river will be carried out at a cost of Rs.6,491 crore.

The CM said the project will feed 342 tanks in Karur, Trichy and Pudukottai districts alone benefiting 42,170 acres of agriculture land. Recalling the constructive role played by former chief secretary K Shanmugam in bringing up the project, the CM said, “It was he who gave us hope that the project can be implemented with state funds if funds could not be augmented from World Bank or any other source.” He also thanked PWD secretary K Manivasagam for his support in shaping the project.

Palaniswami said it was the AIADMK government that announced Cauvery delta as protected agriculture zone to scrap the hydrocarbon projects brought by DMK. “M K Stalin has made it a practice to criticise AIADMK government in his campaigns, but he never listed out schemes implemented during the DMK period. But we meet people to list out welfare schemes that benefited people,” he said. Thanking the people who gave their land for the project, he said this was the biggest project ever taken up by PWD in the state. Mettur dam was not desilted ever since its inception, but it was not just Mettur but many tanks which were not desilted for a long period were taken up by this government. Around 6,211 tanks were desilted so far at a cost of ₹1,417 crore, he said.

PM Pushes for Better Centre-State Coordination

Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a strong case for repealing archaic laws and making it easier to do business in India, stating that the Centre and states need to work closely to boost economic growth.

Addressing the sixth Governing Council meeting of the NITI Aayog, the PM said the private sector should be given full opportunity to become a part of the government’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat programme. The whole country succeeded when states and the Centre worked together during the pandemic, he said. “The basis of the country’s progress is cooperative federalism and today’s meeting is to brainstorm to make it more meaningful and move towards competitive cooperative federalism.” He asked states to form committees to reduce regulations that are no longer relevant in the wake of technology growth.

Observing that the positive response received on the Union Budget for 2021-22 expressed the mood of the nation, he said, “the country has made up its mind, wants to move fast and does not want to waste time.” Modi said the private sector is coming forward with more enthusiasm in this development journey. “As a government, we also have to honour this enthusiasm, the energy of the private sector, and give it as much opportunity in the Aatmanirbhar Bharat campaign,” he added.

Ayodhya to get major facelift

A proposed facelift of Ayodhya alongside construction of Ram temple will bring about major landscape and river-front development with a greenfield city across1,200 acres studded with special features and a distinct colour scheme for buildings that will come up as part of the new project.

The plans outlined by Delhi-based CP Kukreja Architects along with LEA Associates South Asia and infrastructure major L&T present an integrated infrastructure plan. “City of Ayodhya has deep significance and sentiments attached with it. We intend to transform Ayodhya into a world class city amplifying its historic and religious values while preserving the tranquillity and spirituality aspect,” Dikshu C Kukreja, managing principal of the architecture firm said.

The detailed plan for the city, including the existing one covering 875 sq km and the greenfield city, is to be ready in the next six months but its vision and certain features have been identified.

The city will not have regular zoning. The planners will refer to case studies of best “experiential” international cities such as Vatican City and Venice, and Indian examples such as Amritsar, Varanasi, Madurai and Tirupati. “There will be a huge focus on heritage assets, which will include retrofitting and redevelopment of the core city area and temple influence zone. There will be special attention to the Shri Ram Mandir area of 108 acres for seamless integration,” the planner said.


FASTags drive toll collections to record ₹102cr

The toll fee collections through FASTags across the National Highway network have jumped by 23% in the past four days and the amount touched Rs.102 crore on Friday, the highest ever toll collection in the NHAI’s history.

Sources said the total toll collection via FASTags was around Rs.85 crore before the NHAI designated all toll lanes as FASTag lanes. Officials said that while cash transactions have fallen below 10% during this week, another reason for good revenue is plugging of leakages. “It takes a couple of days to collate all details of cash transactions. We are hopeful of record collection of user fee as now there is no avenue for anyone to under-report the actual toll collection,” said an official. Sources said the government has also stepped up monitoring of toll plazas to see that commuters are not caught in queue even with FASTags.


Uttarakhand gives wife co-ownership of man’s ancestral property

The Uttarakhand government has brought an ordinance that will give co-ownership rights to women in their husband’s ancestral property. The landmark decision has been made keeping in mind the largescale migration of male members from the Himalayan state in search of work. Through this, the government aims to provide economic independence to the women who are left behind in the hills and are solely dependent on agriculture to meet their financial needs.

CM Trivendra Singh Rawat said Uttarakhand is the first state to do so. The amendment made to the Uttarakhand Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act is likely to benefit around 35 lakh women in the state. In revenue records, the name of the wife will now be mentioned as co-owner.

“This is the biggest reform of our government. I am confident that this reform will not be limited to Uttarakhand and other states will also follow it. We talk of equal partnership ...this ordinance provides that to women.”

According to the ordinance, in case a woman files for divorce and marries someone else, she will not be regarded as co-owner of the land owned by her first husband. But, if her divorced husband is unable to bear her financial expenses, she would be allowed co-ownership. Besides, if a woman divorces and does not have a child or her husband has been missing for over seven years, she can also become co-owner of land her father owns.

“It was unfair, despite performing the agricultural work, women could not take decisions or apply for loans” Rawat said.

Large-scale migration has remained a problem in Uttarakhand. In the past 10 years, close to 5 lakh people moved out – 50% in search of work. Several villages are left only with elderly couples and women. In such a scenario, the women are involved in household chores and working in the fields without any ownership rights.

Indian monsoon 27m years old

For decades, the evolution of the Indian monsoon has not been entirely understood. Nor have scientists decoded how it intensified and how it has varied with time, leaving gaps in how they understand a recurring climate phenomena on such a large scale. By analysing sediment from the Bay of Bengal, researchers have found that the present Indian monsoon system, as we have it now, goes back at least 27 million years.

“Previous studies only went as far back as 12 million years. They used wind and vegetation data, but that would not paint a clear picture of monsoon intensity,” corresponding author Sajid Ali from the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeontology in Lucknow said. “We analysed sediment from the Bay of Bengal. Change in sediment is directly linked to change in monsoon … The presence of minerals depends on the intensity of monsoon. Different minerals are formed when the monsoon is strong and others when it is weak.”

For the study, to be published in Wiley journal ‘Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology’, they collected 38 sediment samples under Japan’s International Ocean Discovery Program. Over four years, the study was conducted with resident researchers in Germany.

When they studied nano fossils (plankton which are one thousand millionth of a metre) from the bottom of the sediment deposits, "those were found to be 27 million years old, the age we conclude for the present Indian Monsoon system,” Ali explained.

Terrorist guns down two cops in Srinagar

A terrorist gunned down two unarmed policemen in broad daylight in an upmarket Srinagar area, an incident witnessed by several people and captured on CCTV cameras, two days after a similar shooting targeting the son of the owner of a city eatery.

The two policemen were on duty at Baghat on the high-security airport road when they were attacked. The terrorist, identified as Saqib, can be seen pulling out an assault rifle hidden inside his ‘pheran’, a loose over-garment worn during winters, and pumping bullets at them at close range.

The attacker can be seen fleeing from the spot as people scatter around in horror. “We have identified the terrorist and we will soon catch hold of him,” director general of Jammu and Kashmir Police Dilbagh Singh said. The two policemen were rushed to SMHS hospital. Constable Suhail was the first one to succumb while his colleague, constable Mohammed Yusuf, lost the battle of life as he was being wheeled into the operation theatre, police said. Immediately after the incident, police teams rushed to the area and took into their possession recordings from CCTVs installed by shops and houses. This led them to identify the terrorist as Saquib from Barzulla area in the city. His affiliations were not immediately known. This is the second attack in the city in three days.

Just a day earlier, a 24-member delegation of envoys from various countries visited J&K on Wednesday to assess the ground situation in the union territory.

KIA to be first airport in south to have operational parallel runways

Kempegowda International Airport will soon make history by becoming the first airport in south India to have operational parallel runways, enabling planes to take off and land simultaneously when its northern runway re-opens on March 25. The refurbished runway, which includes an LED centre line and edge lights, is expected to reduce aircraft taxiing time by at least 15 minutes.

Also known as the old runway, it was closed for maintenance in mid-June 2020 and aircraft operations were completely shifted to the southern/second runway which runs parallelly.

Sources with Bangalore International Airport Limited said the old runway has received new life with a fresh asphalt top layer along with strengthening of the surface. It has now been equipped with two more entry taxiways and additional transmissometers for runway visibility. When operational from March-end, the runways are likely to be used simultaneously for landings and takeoffs. This will make KIA the first airport in south India to have parallel runways that are independent and operational. Delhi airport already boasts of parallel runways that are functional, sources said.

According to experts, the revamped runway will reduce the taxiing time of aircraft before take-off and landing. However, it will not be CAT IIIB-compliant, which allows pilots to land aircraft at a visual range as low as 50 metres and take off at 125 metres.

KIA’s southern runway made history on January 21, 2021 by becoming the first CAT IIIB-compliant airport in south India.

India-China disengagement in Pangong Tso completed

India and China have completed troop disengagement on both sides of Pangong Tso in eastern Ladakh, setting the stage for talks on the remaining ‘friction points’ at Hot Springs, Gogra and Demchok as well as the strategically-located Depsang Plains in the next corps commander-level meeting on Saturday.

The two armies verified through physical and electronic surveillance that the four-step disengagement process in the Pangong Tso-Kailash range area, which kicked off on February 10 after over nine months of eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, was completed to “mutual satisfaction” by Thursday evening.

They then decided to hold the 10th round of military talks, led by 14 Corps commander Lt-General P G K Menon and South Xinjiang Military District chief Major General Liu Lin, on the Chinese side of the Chushul-Moldo border meeting point from 10 am on Saturday, officials said.

India, however, is keeping an “adequate” number of troops “suitably poised” to react to any contingency, while having also deployed requisite ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) platforms to closely monitor the activities of the People’s Liberation Army.

In military talks, the friction at patrolling points 15 and 17A near Hot Springs and Gogra will be relatively easier to resolve since most rival troops there had earlier disengaged, leaving only a small number in close proximity to each other. Similar is expected to be the case with the trouble-spot at the Charding Ninglung Nallah track junction in the Demchok sector.

But the Depsang Plains or ‘Bulge’ area, the tabletop plateau at 16,000 feet that provides India access to the Daulat Beg Oldie airstrip and the critical Karakoram Pass in the north, will be a much harder nut to crack.

The PLA has been consistently blocking Indian soldiers from going beyond the ‘Bottleneck’ or ‘Y-junction’ area in Depsang, which is around 18 km inside what India perceives to be its territory, to their traditional PPs 10, 11, 11A, 12, and 13. “Depsang has been a problem since 2013, and will require sustained negotiations,” an officer said.